How to Handle a Car Accident in California

Written By | Doreen Almirol | 20+ years CA DMV Licensed Driving Instructor


Car accidents can be distressing, but knowing what to do and taking the right steps can make a significant difference in ensuring your safety and protecting your rights. In this article, we will provide a comprehensive guide on how to handle a car accident, including the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) forms that drivers must submit after an accident.

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STEP 1 | Ensure Safety & Call 911

The first and most crucial step is to stay calm and ensure safety:

    • Check for injuries and call 911 immediately if anyone is hurt.
    • If possible, move your vehicle to a safe location, like the side of the road or shoulder, to avoid further accidents and turn on your hazard lights.

STEP 2 | Exchange Information

After ensuring safety, exchange information with the other parties involved in the accident. The easiest way to collect and save information is with your phone, take photos and notes.  Be sure to collect the following details:

    • Names and contact information of all drivers and passengers.
    • Insurance details, including the names of insurance companies and policy numbers.
    • Vehicle registration, including make, model, year, and license plate numbers.
    • Other driver’s license.

Avoid admitting fault or placing blame; stick to the facts when discussing the accident.

STEP 3 | Document the Accident

To facilitate insurance claims and legal proceedings, document the accident scene thoroughly:

    • Take photos of all vehicles involved, showing the damage from multiple angles.
    • Capture the overall accident scene, including road conditions, weather, and any relevant traffic signals or signs.
    • Note visible injuries and damage to personal property.

This documentation can be invaluable in case of disputes or legal issues.

STEP 4 | Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company

Contact your insurance company promptly to report the accident and initiate the claims process. Provide all necessary details, be truthful, and follow their guidance. Your insurance company can assist with towing, repairs, and rental vehicles if your policy covers them.

STEP 5 | Cooperate with Law Enforcement

When the police arrive, provide accurate information and cooperate with their investigation. You may need to provide a statement about what happened; be truthful and stick to the facts. You can request a copy of the police report for your records.

DMV Forms to Submit After an Accident

Depending on the severity of the accident and your state’s requirements, you may need to submit specific DMV forms. Here are common forms you might encounter:

    • Accident Report Form: Some states require drivers involved in accidents to submit an accident report to the DMV within a specified time frame. This report typically includes details about the accident, insurance information, and driver details.
    • SR-1 Form: The SR-1 form is a Traffic Accident Report required by the California DMV for accidents involving injury, death, or property damage exceeding $1,000. It must be filed within ten days of the accident.

It’s essential to check your state’s DMV website or contact them directly to determine which forms are required after an accident in your jurisdiction. Failure to submit the required forms can lead to penalties and legal issues.

COMPLETE FORMS ONLINE: SR-1 Form for California

STEP 6 | Seek Medical Attention

Even if you feel fine after the accident, it’s essential to seek medical attention. Some injuries may not be immediately apparent due to the adrenaline rush that occurs during a stressful event. Delayed symptoms can include whiplash, concussions, or soft tissue injuries. A medical evaluation will help ensure your health and provide documentation if needed for insurance claims or legal purposes.

Handling a car accident can be overwhelming, but following these steps and submitting the necessary DMV forms can help you navigate the situation effectively. Prioritize safety, gather information, document the scene, report the accident to your insurance company, and cooperate with law enforcement. Being prepared and taking the right actions will ensure you protect yourself, your passengers, and your rights after a car accident.


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